We’ll begin this article by stating that fat is an absolutely essential part of the human diet – this is an indisputable fact. Not only does it provide our bodies with energy and support for cell growth, it helps protect our organs, keeps our skin and hair healthy, and stops us getting cold (by placing a layer of insulation directly under the skin). Fat helps us absorb nutrients, and much of a food’s flavor comes from the fat it contains.
Fat comes in many different types, the main ones of which we looked at here. However, to get the benefits mentioned above, we need to eat the right types and in the right proportions. Get either, or both, wrong and it can actually be extremely bad for us. This applies particularly to a type called omega-6.
What are omega-6 fats?
Omega-6 fats, and a related type called omega-3, are a type of polyunsaturated fat – one that our bodies can’t make. This means we have to get them through our diet. However, a crucial factor here is getting them in the right proportion. This should be approximately 4 of omega-6 to 1 of omega-3. If we eat them in this 4:1 proportion, in conjunction, they play a crucial role in the maintenance of good health.
If we don’t though, we leave ourselves open to a range of diseases and illnesses. Too much omega-3 isn’t a problem. The danger comes when an excess of omega-6 is eaten. As we have seen, the recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 4:1 or less. Unfortunately, in the western diet, it is currently anywhere between 10:1 and 50:1.
Why are omega-6 fats dangerous?
The answer to this question can be summed up with just one word – inflammation. Omega-6 fats increase the risk of inflammation dramatically. When this happens to a person, their body’s response can eventually damage healthy cells, tissues and organs. Over time, this can lead to the following conditions, to name just some:
- cardiovascular disease
- type 2 diabetes
- metabolic syndrome
- irritable bowel syndrome & inflammatory bowel disease
- macular degeneration
- rheumatoid arthritis
- psychiatric disorders
- autoimmune diseases
Furthermore, some of them can lead to more dangerous conditions. For example, obese people are very likely to end up with type 2 diabetes.
Which foods are high in omega-6 fats?
Another very easy question to answer – processed foods and deep fried foods. A very good example is the diet commonly eaten in the southern United States of America. This is rich in deeply fried foods, and people who eat it regularly have a 40 percent higher risk of stroke than those who don’t.
The processed food industry use unhealthy vegetable oils in virtually all their products for the simple reason they are the cheapest and most convenient available. Furthermore, the processing these already unhealthy oils are subjected to makes them even less healthy. The oils we are talking about are soybean oil, canola oil, sunflower oil and corn oil.
How to optimize your omega ratio
One of the most effective measures is to eliminate all foods that contain the above-mentioned oils. To do this, simply examine product labels. Be warned though – these oils are present in virtually all processed food and so this will radically change your diet. Don’t be concerned about foods that contain coconut oil or olive oil though – these are both very good for you.
Another is to eat foods that are high in omega-3 fats. One of the best of which is meat, both red and white. One issue to be aware of here though, is that much of the meat in the supermarkets has been raised on a grain-based diet that usually contains soy and corn. This does reduce their content of omega-3. Therefore, meat from free-range, grass-fed sources is a much better choice – if available, If it isn’t though, even conventionally raised meat is good, as long as it is not highly processed as found in sausages, bacon and the like.
It’s also a good idea to eat free-range eggs which are higher in omega-3 fats than eggs from hens raised on grain-based feeds.
Eat seafood once or twice a week. Fatty fish like salmon (as long as they are not farmed) are particularly good sources. Alternatively, take a fish oil supplement such as cod liver oil.
There are also some plant sources of omega-3 fats – flax and chia seeds are two. However, these do contain a less effective type of omega-3 called ALA which our bodies cannot utilize as well as omega-3 from meat. For this reason, animal sources are usually better choices. However, vegan-friendly supplements containing EPA and DHA from algae are available.
It’s important to realize that benefiting from a diet low in omega-6 fats is a long-term process that will require permanent lifestyle changes. This is because most people have an immense amount of omega-6 in their body fat, and so it can take some time to get rid of it.
The importance of correct omega-3 to omega-6 balance simply cannot be overstated. For people who want to increase their overall health and energy level, and prevent conditions like heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, diabetes, and a host of other diseases, one of the most important strategies at their disposal is to increase their intake of omega-3 fats and reduce their intake of omega-6 fats.